Paella Made Simple

Paella is one of the most popular and famous of global dishes, but to define exactly what paella contains is almost impossible. There are as many variations of paella as there are cooks, with many claiming that their recipe is the best tasting or most authentic. The origins of the dish, however, are quite humble. Understanding a little of its history will help explain why so many varieties exist. Paella is a classic Spanish dish made with rice, saffron, vegetables, chicken, and seafood all cooked together and served in one pan. Paella was originally farmers’ and farm laborers’ food, cooked by the workers over a wood fire for the lunchtime meal.  It was made with rice, plus whatever else was on hand around the rice fields and countryside. Paella was also traditionally eaten straight from the pan in which it was cooked with each person using his own wooden spoon.

Valencia, in Eastern Spain, is the undisputed home of paella. It is one of the largest natural ports in the Mediterranean and has been one of the most important rice-producing areas in Spain since rice was introduced by the Moors over 1200 years ago. In fact, the Spanish word for rice is ‘arroz’, which is derived from Arabic, not Latin like most of Castilian Spanish. It’s a little confusing but ’paella’ or to be more exact ‘la paella’ is the name for cooking pan itself and not the dish. The word comes from old Valencian (in Valencia they have their own language somewhat similar to Catalan) and probably has its roots in the Latin ‘patella’ meaning pan. It has also been suggested that the word ‘paella’, is derived from the Arabic word “Baqiyah”, which means ‘leftovers’  – once again emphasizing both the dish’s humble and Arabic beginnings.

There are however, some other wonderful (if less likely) theories about the origins of the name. The most romantic of them suggests that the dish was first prepared by a lover for his fiancée and that the word is a corruption of ‘para ella’ (meaning ‘for her’ in Spanish). Like all myths there is a small grain of truth in this and although many women still traditionally do the cooking in Spain, making paella is usually left to the men  – very much like BBQ’s in both the US and the UK.

Quite a few years ago, a friend of mine who is from Spain, was telling me that her husband was busy making paella, and that it took him all day long to make it. I just don’t understand how it takes so long to make. Paella is a dish very similar to its Creole and Cajun cousin, jambalaya, found here in the southern regions of Texas and Louisiana, and is made from whatever you have on hand rather than fancy, expensive, hard to find ingredients. You literally just throw everything together in one big pot and cook it all up. It’s really pretty easy to make and not that time consuming at all. This is how I learned how to cook. I love these kinds of rustic foods. They are real and from everyday people.

The other day, I had 1 piece of chicken, 2 sausages, just a little shrimp and some mussels, none of which would have been enough for a meal for the two of us on their own, but when I threw them all together with some leftover lemon rice and vegetables, it made a big pot of perfect paella. Grilled Shrimp with an Asian Pesto Sauce

My paella this time around consisted of shrimp, mussels, chicken, sausage, lemon rice, asparagus, bell peppers, olives, tomatoes, Peruvian peppers, garlic, onions, dry white wine, and spices.

I cooked the sausages up first, then sliced them when they were cooled.

Next, I sauteed the peppers, onions, asparagus and garlic in the same pan with olive oil. I cooked the vegetables for about 7 minutes, or until the peppers and onions were soft and translucent, before removing them and setting them aside.

The chicken and shrimp were next.

Once they were cooked, I removed them and added them to the sausage.

Next, I added the mussels that I poached in the white wine for about 5 minutes or until they were all opened up. The best mussels to use are mussels that are frozen live. Once they open, they are done. If they do not open up, throw them away. They are not good because the mussels have already died.

Once the mussels were done, I set them aside separately, and re-added all the other ingredients into the pot. I also added the rice, seasonings, tomatoes, Peruvian peppers, olives and some chicken broth to the mixture and cooked it for an additional 7-10 minutes, stirring frequently.

My rice was already cooked, so I only added about 1 cup of chicken broth to the mixture, and it did not have to cook that long. Otherwise, add the chicken broth and rice at about a 2:1 ration of liquid to rice and cook for about 30 minutes, or until the rice is fully cooked. Don’t add the tomatoes and olives until the end of the cooking process. They are more delicate than the other vegetables, and if they cook longer, they will break down.

Once everything was done, I added the mussels. They did not need to be cooked any longer and only needed to be re-heated.

I served this simple Spanish rustic meal with some warmed bread and an olive oil dip, and a dry, barrel-aged chenin blanc on the side, just like they would serve it in Spain. !Esta mui fantistico!

Stay safe and stay well Everyone. ‘Til next time.

Author: ajeanneinthekitchen

I have worked in the restaurant and catering industry for 35 years. I attended 2 culinary schools in Southern California, and have a degree in culinary arts from the Southern California School of Culinary Arts, as well as a few other degrees in other areas. I love to cook and I love to feed people.

14 thoughts on “Paella Made Simple”

  1. As with just about anything, someone who is really good at it makes it look simple. It may look like just throwing a bunch of stuff into a pan, but I’m guessing the best paella is made by those cooks wo have a special instinct about what ingredients would taste fantastic together.

    Liked by 1 person

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